Perplexed in CT by Recommendations for EngageNY Curriculum

February 15, 2014 — 14 Comments

Perplexed: adj.

1. bewildered; puzzled.
2. complicated; involved; entangled.

(o _ 0 )  ?

I am perplexed as to why this word is on the EngageNY first grade vocabulary list, and again perplexed when I review the first grade units for English Language Arts (ELA) on this website. I am perplexed because I can see that several units in our current grade five curriculum (Early Settlers and the American Revolution) and our entire grade six curriculum (Ancient World History) have  been bundled into a series of units that will be taught in first grade.Did I mention that EngageNY complicates these areas of study with content area lessons on the human body and astronomy in first grade?

All these complications have me even more perplexed as to why so many people are recommending that educators visit and use EngageNY resources. In two separate incidents over the past two weeks, I have heard educators from the State of Connecticut recommend the site. One recommendation was made directly to the Commissioner in the State Department of Education, Stephan Pryor, during a roll-out of the state’s Common Core website. I hope he does not take these recommendations seriously.

Remember that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were supposed to guide teachers to teach less and focus more. The CCSS were promoted as a means to stop instruction that is “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The CCSS were promoted to allow teachers to select their own materials, an opportunity to move away from scripted programs, stating,”Teachers are thus free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards.”

Engage NY curriculum contrasts with these both of these goals; it is both staggering in its breadth and it is highly scripted.

A look at the Grade One English Language Arts curriculum in the “Listening and Learning Strand” demonstrates the breadth in a curriculum that is organized into 11 separate content area Domains. An examination into Domain 4, titled “Early World Civilizations” shows a unit that is 21 days in length for 6 year-old students using  a Tell It Again! Read-Aloud Anthology. Engage NY explains that this unit:

“….for Early World Civilizations contains background information and resources that the teacher will need to implement Domain 4, including an alignment chart for the domain to the Common Core State Standards; an introduction to the domain including necessary background information for teachers, a list of domain components, a core vocabulary list for the domain, and planning aids and resources; 16 lessons including objectives, read-alouds, discussion questions, and extension activities; a Pausing Point; a domain review; a domain assessment; culminating activities; and teacher resources.”

A further examination of Domain 4 means reviewing its 81 student objectives. That number is not as intimidating as the language in the content area objectives. The first ten objectives state that “by the end of this unit, students will be able to….”:
  1. Locate the area known as Mesopotamia on a world map or globe and identify it as part of Asia;
  2. Explain the importance of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and the use of canals to support farming and the development of the city of Babylon;
  3. Describe the city of Babylon and the Hanging Gardens;
  4. Identify cuneiform as the system of writing used in Mesopotamia;
  5. Explain why a written language is important to the development of a civilization;
  6. Explain the significance of the Code of Hammurabi;
  7. Explain why rules and laws are important to the development of a civilization;
  8. Explain the ways in which a leader is important to the development of a civilization;
  9. Explain the significance of gods/goddesses, ziggurats, temples, and priests in Mesopotamia;
  10. Describe key components of a civilization…
Consider the readiness for first graders to meet these content objectives, and consider their readiness in meeting  other content area objectives in this unit including:
#16 Explain the significance of gods/goddesses in ancient Egypt;
#26 Define monotheism as the belief in one God….

The problem with these content area objectives is that the response, (and remember this is a six year old’s response), is limited to a shallow or cursory understanding to any of these larger questions. Entire courses at higher grade levels, middle and high school, have been developed around these objectives, and many of these objectives will be repeated again in these higher grade levels.

Next, consider that the unit that follows Domain 5-Early American Civilizations, is dedicated to a study of the Aztec, Mayan, and Incan societies. These first 10 objectives for Domain 5 state that “the student will be able to….”

  1. Explain that a shift occurred from hunting and gathering to farming among early peoples; compare and contrast hunter-gatherer societies and Mayan society;
  2. Explain the importance of extended family to the Maya;
  3. Identify the areas in which the Maya/Aztec/Inca lived;
  4. Explain that the Maya/Aztec/Inca farmed;
  5. Explain that the Maya/Aztec/Inca developed large cities or population centers, or empires, many, many years ago;
  6. Explain that the Maya/Aztec/Inca had leaders (kings or emperors); identify by name the emperor of the Aztec, Moctezuma;
  7. Explain that the Maya/Aztec/Inca each had a religion;
  8. Describe the significance of the stars and planets to the Maya;
  9. Explain the significance of the Mayan calendar;
  10. Identify the Aztec capital as Tenochtitlan; identify that Machu Picchu is an Incan city…
There are 32 more objectives for students in Domain 5, and there are nine other domains with an equally daunting number of “the student will” objectives in the Listening and Learning strands. There are more objectives, with overlap, in the Skill strands for each of remaining nine Domains. According to the curriculum in EngageNY, a first grader would be expected to have a basic understanding of Early World Civilizations and Early American Civilizations as well as these remaining nine domains:

Domain #1: Fables and Stories
Domain #2: The Human Body
Domain #3: Different Lands/Similar Stories
Domain #6: Astronomy
Domain #7: The History of the Earth
Domain #8: Animals and Habitats
Domain #9: Fairy Tales
Domain #10: A New Nation: American Independence
Domain #11: Frontier Explorers

The most striking characteristic of this list of domains is the breadth of content area material that a first grader (remember, these are 6 year-olds), is required to “explain” or “identify” or “describe.” These are at best low level comprehension skills in Bloom’s taxonomy. This list clashes with the CCSS objective to become “more focused and coherent” especially when this list of domains does not appear to be connected by any central theme; their inclusion appears random.

All this content will be important to developing a student’s background knowledge over the course of several years, but how critically important is this material at the first grade level when instruction time is at a premium? Practice in reading and writing should be a priority, and the content used for in the development of reading and writing skills should not overwhelm students, but rather complement student cognitive ability.

Nevertheless, EngageNY provides equally dense ELA curriculum at each grade level. Students often “revisit” content that they may not have understood earlier, an enterprise that could be unnecessary given the cursory treatment that may given a topic at an earlier grade level (example: studying War of 1812 in grade 2).

Like any other website with lessons aligned to the CCSS, teachers may find value in some resources on EngageNY. A cautionary note, however, is that these are not “teacher-tested” lessons, but highly scripted lessons from the juggernaut of publishing and testing, the UK based Pearson. This raises a frightening scenario of having the creators of student achievement tests (Pearson) hold teachers and students accountable for the content they (Pearson) have also created in the lessons.

Connecticut’s adoption of the CCSS should remain true to its stated goals of allowing teachers to select their own materials in the development of focused curriculum at each grade level. The damage may already be done, however, since the website Pryor was offering in the state rollout of the Common Core already contains numerous links to EngageNY resources.

Which brings me to another 1st grade word on the EngageNY vocabulary list.

14 responses to Perplexed in CT by Recommendations for EngageNY Curriculum


    I looked over this site as well. Pryor said he was releasing a webinar and instead we got this hijacked site from NY. Most of the information is cut and pasted from other sites. Did you notice all the CAUTIONS for each unit/lesson. He even posted CT educators were involved. Really? Just like teachers wrote the common core? See sample cautions:

    Grade 1: Listening Strand – Fables and Stories


    Connecticut teachers should be aware that this curriculum unit is specifically designed for New York Public Schools. Teacher notes and preparation materials are extensive and will require familiarity to be used effectively. The unit would be enhanced with additional supports for students who are ELL or have disabilities. Instruction and activities within the unit do address all of the Common Core standards listed; however, in the summative assessment students are only evaluated on domain/academic vocabulary and core content of stories and fables. Teachers using this unit will need to create a more comprehensive assessment with an aligned rubric that provides sufficient guidance for interpreting student performance in all areas.

    Grade 6: Building Background Knowledge – PERCY JACKSON AND THE HERO’S JOURNEY


    Connecticut teachers should be aware that this curriculum is specifically designed for New York Public Schools. While the curriculum is available at the site listed, access to materials used in lessons may be limited.


    I was surprised to see so many links as well…disappointing at every level. Maybe they should say “limit access to materials” instead?
    Thanks for taking the time to comment.


    You should talk to teachers in NY state whose districts require them to use “the modules”. Many do not like them at all. I hear math can be worse than ELA for some. I have not heard one good word about them. The state says it is up to districts to decide to adopt, adapt or not use. They are too long and teachers do not feel they will meet the standards. These are not field-tested. I gather some folks out there like them and would be interested to hear how/why. I have also heard about gr. 1. Exposing little kids to content isn’t a bad thing, however……not sure the modules are the answer either. Some say that there are many mistakes in the modules, too. You might search Diane Ravitch’s blog for more information or google this.


      Thanks for your suggestions…I did some looking at Ravitch’s blog. The whole subject is huge, so I thought I would focus on one small section for Grade1 after I heard a primary school teacher gush about the resources to the state commissioner. This is my elaborate response that I could not make at the time…One step at a time, I guess. Thanks for taking time to comment.


    Also Burkins and Yaris wrote about the modules and they are searchable. Maybe you have posted there in the past. Were you at NCTE in Boston? Going to IRA? I hope to be on a panel for poetry at NCTE ’14 but plan to go in any event. My husband was asking me about the standards and curriculum. In NYC I think they use Core Curriculum in some schools. In the standards there is on place that clearly says it is up to teachers how they reach the standards. There has to be an over-arching curriculum AND I am not really sure I think moving so far away from literature is the right answer either, though I think in HS the idea is that the standards need to be met in the content courses and not just in English which mathematically should leave time for literature. I am concerned about creative thought, imagination, problem solving, engagement, enthusiasm, passion, etc. I also think Vicki Vinton has talked about the modules on her blog ,To Make A Prairie. I think you are near Lakeville, Ct. perhaps. We used to be near there in the summers working. I was at CRA a couple of years ago when there was that freak Halloween time snow storm. My home district is picking and choosing regarding modules. My question is were these field-tested? Is there evidence that kids will do well on the tests and in life if teachers use these lesson plans? Truly teachers I meet who are forced to use them are not happy with them. And in some places they are supposed to be on the same lesson as their colleagues which is so much added pressure. I say judge the output not the input and make the goals clear and the curriculum clear as well, but give many many choices. Let each teacher be the best they are capable of. Ruining moral is not going to help. ON Ravitch’s blog you should look for a few recent posts in the last 2 weeks about teachers who are talking out about their experience working in charter schools. A couple in particular in New Orleans and one further back in Chicago. Very unsettling. The idea that they should be plugged into computers. Also Kipp schools. Comments on that blog are interesting, too. Are you on the FB Badass Teachers page? That is a place to ask questions. Though members are from all over the country. I want what is best for kid, but I believe in psychology and the information that teachers need to have control of their classrooms. If you can do it a better way and want to, you should be able to innovate and create and make your room come alive. Of course there is a big push called Project Based Learning which is supposed to be a good thing. I will have to investigate that more closely to understand.


      Funny you should mention Vicki Vinton; I read her blog regularly, and she is way ahead of me in discussing EngageNY.
      Yes, I am on the BAT page, and I presented at Boston NCTE and CEL this past year…like you, I am hoping to go in 2014 in Washington DC. Yes, my district in near Lakeville, CT…snowed under at present.
      My concerns with the Engage NY site stem from my studies with literacy at the early level. (pre-k through 3) So many of my students today lack reading comprehension strategies….what causes them to fail? I see problems ahead when there is a lack of focus in delivering content; that’s what started my looking on the Engage NY website.
      As far as I can tell, there is no PBL in these lessons..


        Can I just add? This is right from the CCS:

        “The CCS document states, “The Standards do not mandate such things as a particular writing process or the full range of meta cognitive strategies that students may need to monitor and direct their thinking and learning. Teachers are thus FREE to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards (NGA, CCSSO 2010, pg. 4).”

        I read that statement and I have been granted the autonomy to figure out how to teach my students as well as craft my own assessments to determine how well they’re learning.

        Their portrait of students who meet their standards contain these four aspects (of seven).

        They demonstrate independence.
        They build strong content knowledge.
        They comprehend as well as critique.
        They value evidence.

        And so should their teachers. We are not robots following orders. We are professionals and should be treated as such.

        My two cents.


        I presented at the last 3 NCTEs. We should compare notes on Boston. I loved it because I saw so many friends and met new ones. Did u go to the Don Graves breakfast? What was your topic? Mine is poetry and I was on at the same time as Chris Lehman whom I really wanted to see. I love Vicki and Dorothy’s book What Readers Really Do. Am also a big Peter Johnston fan. I am Janet Clare on FB if you want to friend me. I use it professionally for the most part. There was a good Steve Krashen blog post that I shared today.

        On Saturday, February 15, 2014, Used Books in Class wrote: > teachcmb56 commented: “Funny you should mention Vicki Vinton; I read her blog regularly, and she is way ahead of me in discussing EngageNY. Yes, I am on the BAT page, and I presented at Boston NCTE and CEL this past year…like you, I am hoping to go in 2014 in Washington DC. Y” >


    Many parents in NY are demanding EngageNY math modules be removed from their children’s schools. Parents in Connecticut beware, you do not want this for your children.


    I live in NY and have a kindergartener and 2nd grader. I found your blog on Diane Ravitch’s site. As far as Common Core, I agree there are some (very few, I mean to say) positive’s about it. The whole teaching 1st graders about Mesopotamia is perplexing to me as well. One would think that having a basic understanding of the area that the kids actually live in (ie, NY or CT or even the US) would be more beneficial and easier to understand for 1st graders – who barely understand that the earth is round and that civilizations have been around for millions of years. Ask a first grader how long ago christmas was and they are most likely to say last week when it’s the middle of summer. Time concepts and across the world ancient civilizations have no real value to them at that age. I would rather they be able to point out the states on a map and be able to give local history and some important facts about the area they live in. At least they can see and visit and touch the history they are learning about.

    Rather than give up the millions of dollars NY accepted in federal money, Ny is forging ahead with this disaster and forcing our kids to become guinea pigs for the corporate elites looking to line their pockets even more.


    I just went to a CCSS info session at my school, in New Hartford. The curriculum specialists for our district reinforced that our teachers have creative control, they have freedom, its going to allow for more creativity, etc. They believe it’s a good thing. Sounds great. But it was a short meeting and not everything was addressed. So I left with more questions, which I plan on emailing them.

    Now, seeing how our state website on Common Core has links to EngageNY is unbelievable. This seems counter to what the Specialists were telling us. I’ve been to EngageNY’s website and have seen some of the videos on there about how to various teach modules. I was not impressed.

    By having the links to EngageNY is it just for sharing ideas with CT teachers? Is this something they are ‘encouraged’ to follow?

    And where in the standards does it suggest learning about ancient civilizations for 1st graders? I know I need to read through the standards more thoroughly, but I clearly remember in 6th grade learning about ancient civilizations.

    I think this is where the confusion for me at least lies, how to you translate standards into to curriculum?

    Thanks and I look forward to following your blog.


    Engage NY seems to have a paucity of literature – we only have a captive audience for four (high school) years – do I want to teach about animal intelligence (interesting subject, granted) or use my time to engage the great works students may only encounter in school?

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  1. Teachers in Connecticut Perplexed by NY’s First Grade Common Core Modules | Diane Ravitch's blog - March 13, 2014

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  2. Teachers in Connecticut Perplexed by NY’s First Grade Common Core Modules | Educational Policy Information - March 13, 2014

    […] Connecticut blogger pulls apart the first grade lessons, previously discussed on this […]

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